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October 05, 2005

Everything you need to know about legal marketing and sales, in nine words

There’s good news for lawyers who want to find new business: the fundamental principles are so simple that they can be summarized in nine words: identify prospects, get meetings, listen, get advances, don't stop.

The first phrase – identify prospects – is important when done properly, but it can also turn into a time waster. If you don’t have a clear idea of who to target as potential customers, you could waste an enormous amount of time talking to the wrong people. The problem is that some lawyers spend so much time on analyzing the possibilities that they don’t have any time left for actually selling anything. If you’d rather do research and analysis than go to a networking event, remind yourself that this isn’t a science experiment, it’s marketing. If in doubt, pick up the phone and proceed to step 2

Selling services is really very simple: You must begin by meeting people. And the more people you meet, the more likely you are to get new business. Clients hire lawyers whom they trust and like. You don’t build trust by reading brochures, and you don’t build liking on a web page. The best way to build trust and liking is by sitting face to face and talking. You can increase the impact of meetings by doing some research and preparation. But again there is a risk of over-analysis: if your preparation takes so much time that it reduces the number of people you meet, stop preparing and get out of the office.

If you want to expand business with current clients, just call a few of the biggest and say that you’d like to get a better understanding of their company and industry. After you explain that they will not be billed for your time, most people will be happy to meet. If you want to find new clients, that’s a lot harder. More on that in future postings.

Once you get the meeting, it’s time for the next step: listen. Plan to spend 50% to 80% of every meeting listening, not talking. This will come naturally to some people. But others, like me, need to work at it. I have so many fascinating things to say, and I just can’t wait to tell people how I can help them. If you feel the same way, here’s my advice: Stop talking. Ask a question. Listen to the answer. Then ask another question. For more details, see my July 19 posting in this blog (listen up) or Kevin Daley’s book Socratic Selling from my Amazon list of the top 10 sales and marketing books for lawyers.

The fourth step – get advances – comes from another of my top 10 sales books, Neil Rackham’s classic SPIN Selling. In the most systematic research effort in the history of sales, Rackham analyzed the techniques and results of 35,000 sales calls. He found that the best sales people are very good at getting clients to agree to take a small step toward the sale after each meeting. An advance must be specific. If a prospect says “we should talk again,” that is NOT an advance. If a prospect says, let’s have a telecon on Friday October 6, that IS an advance.

One big mistake that novices often make is they try to push for too much, too soon. Successful rainmakers are experts at judging what advance can realistically be achieved at any stage, and getting it. Which creates a natural progression to the final advance: actually getting new business.

The last two words – don’t stop – are so critical that I’ll need a separate posting to talk about them next week.

So the good news is that the theory of law firm sales is so simple that it can be summarized in nine words: identify prospects, get meetings, listen, get advances, don't stop. The bad news is that in practice, selling is the hardest work you can do in a suit.

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